Hamilton breaks F1 pole record after crazy three-hour Monza qualifying

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Lewis Hamilton has become the all-time record holder for Formula 1 pole positions after topping qualifying for the 69th time in his career in a crazy, three-hour long session ahead of the Italian Grand Prix on Saturday afternoon.

After tying with Michael Schumacher’s record for 68 poles last weekend at Spa, Hamilton moved clear in style by finishing 1.1 seconds ahead of the field at the end of a bizarre session at Monza.

Despite final practice being shortened to just 16 minutes due to heavy overnight rain and throughout the morning, qualifying began as planned at 2pm local time (8am ET).

All drivers took to the track on full wet tires, but they were not enough to keep Romain Grosjean pointing in the right direction as he aquaplaned while applying the throttle on the main straight and spun into the wall.

The session was red flagged immediately and put on hold, with regular updates arriving at 15-minute intervals.

A break in the weather eventually came over two-and-a-half hours after Grosjean’s crash, with the session going green again at 16:40 local time.

Q1 resumed with drivers running on the full wet tire, but a drying line soon appeared to allow them to switch to intermediates for the final five minutes of the session.

Valtteri Bottas was able to end Q1 fastest, but uncertainty about the advantage offered by the inters led to a mix of tire picks at the beginning of Q2, only for Mercedes to once again press its authority with Hamilton leading the session on intermediates.

More rain ahead of Q3 threw another spanner in the works, though, with the likes of Hamilton and Bottas forced to come in and switch back to full wets early in the final stage of qualifying, handing those already on wets an advantage.

Hamilton soon began to find his feet, timing his final run perfectly to be one of the last drivers to cross the line, turning in a best lap of 1:34.660.

Hamilton had been run close by Red Bull drivers Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo throughout the session, but they could only take P2 and P3 respectively.

However, with both dropping back due to grid penalties, 18-year-old Lance Stroll will start from the front row on Sunday after qualifying an incredible fourth for Williams.

Force India’s Esteban Ocon was another young star on display in qualifying, taking P5 for Force India, but will also gain two places to line up third on the grid ahead of Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas.

Ferrari had a session to forget as Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel struggled in the dying moments of Q3, finishing seventh and eighth overall.

Felipe Massa was ninth for Williams, while Stoffel Vandoorne led McLaren’s charge in P10 with an excellent display in the wet.

Sergio Perez was knocked out in Q2 by just two-thousandths of a second, losing out to teammate Ocon of all people, leaving the Mexican racer 11th overall ahead of Nico Hulkenberg.

Despite carrying a 35-place grid penalty, Alonso opted to complete some running in Q2, finishing 13th overall ahead of Toro Rosso teammates Daniil Kvyat and Carlos Sainz Jr.

Kevin Magnussen was unable to find enough time on the intermediate tires at the end of Q1, leaving him 16th ahead of Renault’s Jolyon Palmer and the Sauber pair of Marcus Ericsson and Pascal Wehrlein. Romain Grosjean propped up the timesheets for Haas following his crash earlier in the day.

The Italian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 7am ET on Sunday.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. will race the No. 3 vs. IndyCar stars in Michigan iRacing

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The invite has been received, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. has another iRacing event on his schedule.

The NASCAR on NBC analyst tweeted Wednesday that he will make his debut in the IndyCar iRacing Challenge with Saturday’s race at Michigan Speedway. The race will be shown live on NBCSN at 2:30 p.m. ET Saturday.

The 2-mile oval was chosen by IndyCar drivers as the third track in the six-race series. Earnhardt heartily endorsed Michigan as a potential iRacing venue Monday along with Daytona and Talladega. Michigan nearly was selected by fans as the opener in the iRacing Challenge.

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Earnhardt, a longtime avid iRacing fan, had been lobbying since last Thursday that he was interested in racing with IndyCar drivers.

He has driven in the first three races of the eNASCAR Pro Invitational, finishing second to Denny Hamlin in the opener at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Last year, he attended his first Indianapolis 500, working as an analyst as part of NBC Sports’ inaugural broadcast of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

“I’d love to do it,” Earnhardt said Monday about joining the IndyCar iRacing Challenge. “I think I’d love to get to know those guys.

“I had such a great time at the Indy 500 last year, and the reception that I received from other drivers there really meant a lot to me. So I know they’re all a lot of great dudes in that series that I already know that I’d love to get to know some of them even better.”

It already has been quite the week for Earnhardt, who was announced Monday as one of 15 nominees for the 2021 NASCAR Hall of Fame.

The field for Saturday’s race at Michigan should include another  NASCAR driver in Jimmie Johnson. The seven-time Cup champion has driven the first two races of the IndyCar iRacing Challenge (and has plans to race IndyCar part time in the future).